Friday, December 07, 2012

Ousted Deacons and Their Supporters, Seeking To Attend Church, Sue Pastor

Saginaw News yesterday reported on a lawsuit filed in state court in Saginaw County, Michigan by 5 former deacons and two other members of the Zion Missionary Baptist Church who support them.  Plaintiffs complain that the church's pastor, Rodrick Smith, invoking state trespass laws, falsely told police he had fear that they would disrupt services.  Smith got police to threaten plaintiffs with arrest if they continued to attend church services. In the case of one member, police did arrest him for trespass, but never filed formal charges. Plaintiffs include a former Saginaw mayor and two Saginaw County commissioners. They have not attended services since, but have carried protest signs in front of the church on Sunday mornings.  The recently-filed complaint (full text) in Robinson v. Smith, (MI Cir. Ct., filed 11/29/2012), recounts Smith's attempt to remove 5 of the plaintiffs as deacons, and asks for a declaratory judgment that plaintiffs may attend church so long as they do not disrupt services.  It alleges that "Smith injected the secular police powers of the state into the internal affairs" of the church by means of wrongful use of the criminal trespass law, in violation of their 1st Amendment rights. The complaint also seeks damages for malicious prosecution. A suit against the church itself was dismissed by the court in October. That suit, similarly complaining about actions against plaintiffs, had sought return of nearly $130,000 in tithes the plaintiffs had given the church over the past 6 years.